Post Warranty Solar Farm O&M Options

01/27/2017
Tagged In: O&M, Solar Farms

The number of solar PV installations in the U.S. that are maturing into a post-warranty stage are increasing. For most multi-megawatt installations, asset managers typically have an O&M plan in place since the project was in its engineering and design phases; however, it’s been a long road since those plans were first developed and, as we all know, plans change.

The reasons for seeking a new solution to O&M are varied. Perhaps it is because of failures in the original plan or whether business needs have changed or the company you’ve contracted with isn’t doing the best job. Whatever the case, there are typically three options for post-warranty stage solar O&M from which to choose, including example pros and cons when deciding to choose this option.

1. Stick with the Original Equipment Manufacturers Contract

PRO: Keeping communication open about upgrades to the control systems and the solar equipment.

Knowing firsthand when a control system has been upgraded or improved upon can mean a lot to the bottom line if these upgrades affect performance. Sometimes this also means better OEM parts pricing.

CON: Many Points of Contact.

Going directly to the OEM may mean that you will have numerous points of contact to keep all equipment in working order. You’ll still need in-house staff to diagnose which piece or pieces of equipment failed. This person or team would need to contact the correct OEM and have good follow-up ensuring the anomaly has been fixed. The list of potential contacts may include; the company who manufactured your inverter, the company who manufactured your panels, and then there’s the monitoring system company, the racking company, the combiner company, and the list goes on. Also, note that equipment failures could turn into a finger pointing game where you spend more time than you’d like managing the OEMs and maintenance issues. It might be easier to take the O&M in-house.

2. Manage O&M In-house

Solar power plant owners that choose to manage their own O&M in-house must ensure their personnel:

  • Are equipped with appropriate skill-sets
  • Understand the how the complete system functions
  • Have the qualifications and experience
  • Can manage spare-part inventory
  • Have a firm grasp on quality control
  • Understands and can manage all maintenance procedures – both scheduled and emergency services.
  • Have good time management experience
  • Some of the pros and cons of choosing to manage your O&M in-house are as follows:

PRO: More direct control, and lower costs.

Not having a flat monthly fee and being tied to an ongoing contract certainly is appealing. Your costs are tied directly to the employee’s time and the cost of parts and other maintenance needs. You are assured that you are only paying for services you need. Managing solar O&M in-house will allow more control over maintenance. You set the schedule, make the inspections, keep spare parts inventory in check, clean panels, and monitor the system for anomalies. If there is a failure, it’s under your control.

CON: More pressure on managing staff, and time/energy becomes dedicated to maintenance.

Optimizing PV system performance completely depends on the in-house staff. O&M will only be as effective as the people managing it behind the scenes. Hiring, firing and managing staff takes time and energy. Staff must understand how to meet performance targets and be able to effectively perform the scope of services required for preventative maintenance as well as emergency services. Should an employee be underperforming, the effect can trickle down to degrade system performance, too. While you have complete control of the maintenance when managing it in-house, you may not have the resources to effectively manage it 24/7/365. 

3. Sign a Deal with a Third-Party Provider

You may have contracted services from the EPC company that constructed your array for O&M after the system was commissioned. Now you’ve discovered that just because a company built your solar array it doesn’t mean they are the best people to maintain it for years, or even decades down the road. They may have already failed as an operator since the system went live, or other issues have cropped up. Or, you may have been managing your solar O&M in-house and the headaches of doing it all yourself are just too overwhelming. Whatever your obstacles have been, signing a deal with a third party provider may be right for you.

PRO: Third party providers are focused on O&M only, and are cost effective.

Few companies are positioned to only offer solar O&M services. A company that takes on the challenge of offering O&M services as a stand-alone service will be highly motivated to operate and manage your solar power plant to the highest standards. It is their core business, so you should expect excellent customer service and the highest quality workmanship. In addition, outsourcing solar O&M can be more cost effective because you will not be adding permanent positions to your existing work force.

CON: There may be a learning curve.

The lack of familiarity with the ins-and-outs of your particular system may take some time for the technician to get acquainted with its nuances. If you have decided to go with a third party solar O&M provider, you’ll want to be confident that the company will conduct a complete system review as soon as possible. This will ensure they are up to speed with what has happened during the development and construction phases and will know as much as possible about the system to proactively schedule maintenance. In an emergency situation, you can be rest assured that long troubleshooting times won’t be needed to cypher out system-specific design or operational issues.

Solar Operations and Maintenance is All About the Response

01/27/2017
Tagged In: O&M

While the sun may have set for the day, Miller Brothers Solar O&M technicians and employees work tirelessly around the clock to provide clients with 24/7/365 availability and access to onsite first response and emergency service.

While some O&M providers offer each client the convenience of a state-of-the-art Network Operations Center (NOC), they also don’t offer a guaranteed response time if something were to happen. While energy is lost, if you don’t have a reliable provider, you either have to fix the issue yourself or wait.

Get Guaranteed Response Times

In your O&M agreement there should be a section outlining and guaranteeing response times for various situations. Without such guarantees, nothing motivates a provider to fix the solar array problem. You certainly don’t want to wait.

Guaranteed response times and services provided should be detailed for different sets of operating challenges. For example, should an operator detect an anomaly or a monitoring system send out an alert, the O&M service company should respond via phone within 12 hours of initial contact. Depending on the anomaly, they should also perform any necessary onsite emergency visits in less than 24 hours for critical repairs and replacement solutions.

Know Your Contract

At the start of every contract, Miller Bros Solar provides our clients with a list of direct contacts to call in cases of system trouble, ensuring constant client communication.

While MBS makes certain to operate and maintain photovoltaic systems utilizing the best industry practices, products, means and methods, some systems experience challenges above and beyond anyone’s expectations. With years of experience servicing and repairing solar PV equipment, MBS technicians pinpoint the problem, investigate possible root causes and repair the failed equipment in an a very effective and efficient manner.

MBS Services

  • Onsite or Remote Monitoring and Mitigation – Working together to identify issues allows for rapid response to action in whatever capacity is needed.
  • Proactive and Reactive Repair & Equipment Replacement (Planned and Unplanned) — Through our network of trained units, MBS is able to service your site and get your system back online, whether it is routine system maintenance or an unplanned system failure.
  • Original Manufacturer’s Warranty Enforcement – Warranty enforcement enables MBS to further protect you and your investment by holding the manufacturer and original installer responsible for the proper installation, functionality and lifecycle of your equipment.

Response is key when finding an O&M provider. For more information or to talk through a your needed response times, contact us here.

How Solar Monitoring Systems Work

01/27/2017
Tagged In: O&M, Solar Farms

A solar monitoring system connected to a commercial solar array is an extremely helpful tool for asset management keeping a watchful eye over a solar project all year. Monitoring can be managed from anywhere in the world or within feet of the array itself.

A solar monitoring system is a computer program that accesses, compiles and reports on data generated from a solar array. Through thorough and regular analysis, operators can determine if the solar array is, among other things, meeting or exceeding performance projections. It will also indicate when the array or part of the array is offline or if it’s not performing as expected.

Energy Generation

Every solar array has a projected amount of energy that it will produce each month based on several factors including:

  • Solar Panel Efficiency
  • Size of Panels and System Size
  • Solar Radiation in the Region
  • Angle of the Sun to the Solar Panel
  • Weather and Seasonal Variations
  • Pitch and Orientation of the Solar Panels
  • Temperature
  • Shade
  • Panel Soiling

Before any solar project’s commencement, the positive and negative results of these factors are compiled. Energy projections over the life of a solar farm are made to determine the long-term costs and potential revenues the project will generate. Solar financing and investors depend heavily on these energy projections.

System Events

Whenever a solar array is under-producing, or not generating energy, it means it’s costing investors money. And, as we mentioned in the Solar Panel Cleaning article (link to blog), soiled panels can degrade PV performance up to 25% which can increase the pay back time by three to five years. An undetected outage could have even more dire consequences over the long haul. Which is why emergency solar services for offline outages are extremely important.

Should a solar farm be underperforming or offline, key personnel will receive automatic emails of events affecting the system performance. Additionally, monitoring systems have the capability of running remote and/or onsite diagnostic programs to narrow down system failures to a particular string, inverter or other issue to expedite repairs. In the instance of panel soiling, as expected, data trends will show a declining production in energy as more and more soiling occurs on the surface of the solar modules.

No matter what the cause of the under production or outage, the faster the solar array returns to normal operational levels, the better. A trusted O&M provider is the key to optimum solar array performance. Contact us today if you want to enhance your solar monitoring for better energy output.

Solar Panel Cleaning

01/27/2017
Tagged In: O&M, Solar Farms

Solar panel cleaning is a vital component of any solar operation and maintenance (O&M) program. Dirty panels or covered solar panels (for example: snow) produce less electricity than clean, unobstructed panels.

In some areas, without adequate solar panel cleaning, photovoltaic (PV) performance can degrade as much as 25% according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. This can elongate your solar array’s payback time by three to five years!

Why Clean Solar Panels?

To maintain optimal energy production, solar arrays require periodic solar panel cleanings especially in those areas of that are prone to high airborne particulates such as pollen, exhaust, dust, industrial processes, coastal salts, organic debris, and snow. Solar panel cleaning is important to ensure maximum energy production from a solar array. Some solar panel manufacturers are now even making panel cleaning a condition of their warranty. Having covered panels means a decreased amount of sunlight reaches the solar cells in the solar panels, thereby reducing the amount of energy generated.

When do you Clean Solar Panels?

O&M companies with years of experience in solar maintenance will layout a preventative maintenance plan that includes a detailed cleaning schedule for the solar array. In addition to the predetermined, preventative maintenance schedule, solar O&M companies have two methods to determine if and when the panels need to be cleaned. They will visually inspect the solar panels on a periodic basic and/or use a monitoring system. Most commercial O&M companies will do both.

What Happens During a Solar Project Inspection?

During a physical inspection of a solar project, panel cleanliness is not the only thing that technicians are reviewing. Other components of the array will also be inspected by the skilled technician including, but not limited to:

  • Mounting
  • Cabling
  • Inverters and Connecting Boxes
  • Shading and Vegetation Growth
  • Water Drainage
  • Fencing
  • Security of the Area
  • Wildlife or Pest Activity

A physical visual inspection can often detect potential hazards or smaller problems that could turn into major headaches down the road. Identifying and making repairs or adjustments before they interfere with energy production is key to a successful O&M plan, and is also good for operations to be aware of future cleaning needs.

There are several methods to clean solar panels, all of which are relatively easy; however, the sheer volume of panels in a commercial solar array adds a level of effort, which can be beyond some company’s limits, which is why utility scale solar power plants typically enlist the help of an O&M company. Remember, dirty panels mean less output. Contact us today to talk through a customized plan that could fit your environmental needs.

Avoid Solar Farm Operations and Maintenance Issues

01/27/2017
Tagged In: O&M, Solar Farms

The performance, and ultimate profitability of a solar installation depend upon the competence and experience of the O&M team. O&M is a critical solar industry sector needed for all commercial and utility scale PV power plants.

Proactive Preventative Maintenance Plan

Through a proactive preventative maintenance plan (link to “What’s Missing” blog), the O&M team stays updated on potential issues and are sometimes able to stem off major failures. With smaller repairs, an O&M provider maintains its solar installations in good working order.

Corrective Maintenance Plan

While it is impossible to prevent all potential failures or damages that can occur on a solar farm, there are issues that can be avoided. If a solar monitoring system sets off an alert indicating an outage, the response time of the O&M team can also impact power generation. As important as a preventative maintenance plan, a well-developed corrective maintenance plan can reduce costly downtime.

Any time a string or entire array is offline or experiencing periods of underperformance due to an O&M issue, the result is a loss of energy loss.

Performing Comprehensive Inspections

As part of a preventative maintenance plan, consistently identifying and documenting areas of improvement and correction helps uphold system integrity. Checklists for inspections are used to assure potential issues aren’t overlooked including environmental factors, equipment and other general issues. Here are some of the items that are regularly managed during an environmental inspection:

  • Vegetation Abatement
  • Panel Shading (trees and other obstructions)
  • Natural Damage
  • Ground Erosion
  • Dirty Panels
  • Animal Abatement

Here are some of the items regularly managed during an equipment inspection:

  • Shorted Cells
  • Cell Browning/Discoloring
  • Defective Trackers
  • Transformer Leaks
  • Inverter Damage
  • Broken Conduit
  • Combiner Box Damage

There are additional items that are needing to be inspected as well, like:

  • Vandalism Damage
  • Perimeter Fence Damage

Miller Brothers Solar creates a customized plan to fit your individual solar farm needs. Because we work in many different states, we learn the environment and how it would effect a farm’s O&M. It’s hard avoiding everything, but being proactive can keep production running up to its potential. Reach out to us if you should have any questions.

Solar Asset Management

01/25/2017
Tagged In: O&M

As more utility scale solar installations go live, the need for better solar asset management and analytics tools for managing diverse solar photovoltaic (PV) portfolios grows.

In the U.S., distributed solar PV has seen unprecedented growth with the cumulative capacity now surpassing 15 gigawatts (GW). The focus will always be on building projects, but due to the maturation of the industry and its equipment, operations and maintenance also becomes a main focus.

Without the right tools, plans, or experience in solar asset management, O&M costs increase, while energy yield decreases. Skilled O&M of solar assets takes sophisticated management and analytics software along with the ability to diagnosis issues remotely saving on costs of dispatching trucks and engineering fees.

Our team is a chosen leader in O&M solutions, with deep project expertise, full construction capabilities, and the right equipment needed for each individual project. 

To learn more about some of our asset management partners, visit our case studies section or click the link below.